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UW-Madison Scientists Revive Harry Harlow's Cruel Maternal Deprivation Studies

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UW-Madison Scientists Revive Harry Harlow's Cruel Maternal Deprivation Studies

[Action Alert! Help Stop the Return of Maternal Deprivation Studies to UW-Madison]

From Rick Bogle, Primate Research and Alliance for Animals
May 2012

It is possible that a large number of people complaining very concertedly about Kalin's desire to revive Harlow's methods and Bennett's project could have some positive effect. But it will take more than only a few people calling and writing regularly; it will take many of us. The use of maternal deprivation is a giant moral step backwards for the university. People around the world who know what Harlow did to the baby monkeys are appalled that such cruelty was ever allowed and that it was allowed to continue unquestioned for so long. This remains an embarrassment to more than a few at the university.

Primate Research

Maternal deprivation -- crushing a monkey’s spirit by raising him or her without a nurturing caregiver -- was invented and promoted by UW-Madison’s Harry Harlow and his students in the 1970s and 80s. Harlow’s experiments with maternal deprivation are widely acknowledged as being profoundly cruel.

Now, well into the twenty-first century, UW-Madison has again embraced the use of Harry Harlow’s cruel and controversial methods.

Recently hired experimental psychologist Alyson Joy Bennett has close professional ties to Harlow’s protégé Stephen Suomi, advocate of the infamous “Pit of Despair” – a device for keeping baby monkeys in profound isolation. Bennett maternally deprives monkeys and then uses them as her research subjects.

Monkeys experiencing these “deleterious early rearing experiences” have abnormally high levels of anxiety and stay huddled in place. They have pronounced cognitive and motor deficits. Emotional problems associated with this rearing method persist into adulthood.

Another UW-Madison researcher, Affiliate Scientist at the Harlow Primate Laboratory, Ned Kalin, has requested permission to take his decades-long monkey fear experiments even further by frightening young maternally deprived monkeys.

This is a giant moral step backwards and a challenge to public sentiments and mores. The UW Madison may have hired Dr. Bennett with the expectation that her research methods would spark public controversy. Maybe they hoped other UW scientists like Kalin would again embrace Harlow’s cruel methods.

Bennett is a leader of Speaking of Research, a group started to "take on animal rights groups" (SourceWatch). She is an outspoken defender of all experimental use of animals – and understandably so given the line of research she has chosen as her specialty.

The Alliance for Animals is asking its members and compassionate people around the world to speak out against this revival of Harry Harlow’s cruel methods by calling and writing Dr. Robert Streiffer, Chair of the university oversight committee responsible for approving these experiments, and urging him to stop them.

From Alliance for Animals

maternal, deprivation, Harry Harlow, vivisection
Isolated monkeys show severe persistent psychopathological behaviors similar to those seen in autistic children.

The fact that human children do not develop normally without a nurturing caregiver who is in frequent physical contact with them has been known since the mid 1940s. The importance of this emotional bonding in children has been universally accepted since the early 1950s.

maternal, deprivation, Harry Harlow, vivisectionThe critical nature and psychological importance of this bonding in rhesus monkeys was demonstrated ad nauseam between about 1958 and 1980 by Harry Harlow and his many students at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Harlow's and his students' maternal deprivation experiments have been widely criticized for the suffering they caused. Even those who defend Harlow's work sometimes say that such experiments would not be allowed today.

In late 2011, the UW-Madison Graduate School Animal Care and Use Committee discussed a proposed series of experiments seeking approval to deprive infant monkeys of their mothers. You can review the minutes here. This is an excerpt from the Closed Session Minutes of December 12, 2011:

Dr. Lindstrom asked if there has been any discussion about the type of extreme experiments of this study. Dr. Krugner-Higby [A lab animal veterinarian] said yes, and said that she feels the creation of nursery-raised infant non-human primates (NHP) is severe because of what it can do to young animals. Dr. Capuano [Primate Center attending vet] said this type of research continues to be carried out at other NHP research centers, but acknowledged that this type of research has not occurred at UW-Madison since the 1980s. Dr. Lindstrom asked if this is an established animal model for this work, and asked if separation from the mothers could be half as long as is proposed. Dr. Krugner-Higby said the PI will say that his lab has gone as far as they can within "normal" anxiety range and the research needs to be carried out past that range. Dr. Capuano said that the PI is trying to compare mother-reared animals to nursery-reared animals at a specific developmental stage. He said that he is unsure if the ACUC has the right to tell a PI not to do their research because the research may cause harm. The ACUC frequently approves protocols that will have adverse effects on animals. Dr. Krugner-Higby said the difference is in other studies of pathogenesis (such as SIV) specific therapeutic or preventative endpoints can be identified and reached, but in these studies endpoints are less clear, noting the behavioral damage to the animals from this type of study is all ready well-known. Dr. Krugner-Higby said that she has read both of the grants listed on this protocol and neither of the grants describe the creation of nursery-reared infants in the specific aims nor in the Vertebrate Animal Sections. She said PI knows that he will have to inform his program officers of this explicit proposal. Dr. Capuano said he believes that a new grant has been submitted to cover that aspect of work. Extensive discussion ensued. It was noted that the PI is trying to learn what is different about the brains of young anxious NHPs in order to eventually develop therapies to treat anxious children and adults. Dr. Capuano said the PI over the past year has tested every NHP infant for the anxious phenotype to identify candidate animals for his work, and again stated he is not sure if the ACUC should question NIH-approved scientific research. Dr. Krugner-Higby noted the request for the creation of nursery-reared infants has not in fact been approved. Dr. Smith noted that this study is basic science, but the hypotheses and goals are not clearly noted in the protocol. He added that the proposed deprivation is not necessarily troubling, but it is the fact that the PI has not explained it well in this protocol in terms he can understand. Dr. Lindstrom agreed. Ms. Boehni asked if these NHPs infants are purpose-bred, do the fathers of the infants need lo be accounted for? Dr. Capuano will check with Dr. Welter." [Our emphasis throughout.]

The protocol review, begining on page 4 of the ACUC minutes, makes it clear that the unnamed researcher plans on using a snake in part of these severe experiments.

As far as we know, the only vivisector at the UW-Madison using a snake in experiments on anxious monkeys is Ned H. Kalin, MD, Hedberg Professor and Chair Department of Psychiatry University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Phone: 608-263-6079.

Ned Kalin's experiments on young monkeys have primarily been an investigation into the neurobiology of fear. Over the years he discovered a way to identify particularly fearful young rhesus monkeys. He uses those monkeys in his research. Briefly, he frightens them with a human intruder, a large monkey, or a snake, then damages part of their brain with acid or electrocautery and frightens them again to see whether there is a change in their fearfulness; then he kills them and dissects their brain. See for instance: The role of the central nucleus of the amygdala in mediating fear and anxiety in the primate. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. J Neurosci. 2004.

From the Closed Session minutes above, it now appears that he "has gone as far as [he] can within [the] "normal" anxiety range." Now he wants to use the methods pioneered by Harry Harlow and his students -- maternal deprivation -- to go farther, to make young monkeys even more fearful. Kalin's experiments on monkeys are not known to have ever benefited human children suffering from anxiety. It's unlikely that they ever will or even could.

But why would Kalin choose this moment in time to embrace Harlow's cruel methods of creating emotionally damaged young monkeys?

We can't know with certainty, and no one at the university is likely to explain his deepening cruelty, but it seems more than coincidental that the university has already approved a return to Harlow's maternal deprivation experiments:

Dr. Allyson Joy Bennett has recently joined the UW, Madison Department of Psychology. She has been a frequent collaborator and co-author of a number of experiments using maternal deprivation as a "tool" to cause severe depression and anxiety in rhesus monkeys. The senior author on most of those papers has been Harry Harlow's star student, Stephen Suomi. For details about Suomi's career see Rick Bogle's essays Stephen John Suomi: A Lifetime of Sadism and Monsters: Harry Harlow and Stephen Suomi. Bennett is an outspoken critic of efforts to stop harmful experiments on animals.

Between 2000 and 2011 Dr. Bennett co-authored seven papers with Dr. Suomi; the last five have used maternal deprivation, which she has characterized as "deleterious early rearing experiences." These recent papers are titled:

It is unreasonable to assume that the UW-Madison was unaware of Dr. Bennett's regular use of maternal deprivation. When the university hired her, they knew she would be bringing with her the controversial experimental methods devised by Harlow but not approved for use at the university since the early 1980s.

Dr. Bennett removes infant monkeys from their mothers within 24 hours of birth. Prior to the widespread use of the fast-acting anesthetic ketamine in the monkey labs, taking a baby monkey from his or her mother required three or four workers to hold the mother while her baby was taken from her. The loss to the mothers must be profound.

Dr. Bennett explains:

NR [nursery reared] animals were separated from their mothers within 24-hr of birth, moved to a neonatal nursery, and reared under surrogate- peer-reared (n = 5; SPR) or peer-reared (n = 6; PR) conditions [either completely alone or with one other infant] using procedures based on those developed at the University of Wisconsin Harlow Primate Laboratory ...

maternal, deprivation, Harry Harlow, vivisectionWithin 24 hours of birth, scientists will remove baby monkeys from their mothers and then raise them with another infant monkey. This euphemistically termed “peer-rearing” or “differential-rearing” or “nursery-rearing” is done to create “models” of anxiety, “early life stress,” “early adversity,” and “social impoverishment.” Monkeys who suffer from these “deleterious early rearing experiences” have abnormally high levels of anxiety, reduced movement, and cognitive and motor deficits. Emotional problems associated with this rearing method persist into adulthood.

Dr. Bennett's project is titled LONG-TERM COGNITIVE AND NEUROANATOMICAL CONSEQUENCES OF CHILDHOOD STRESS. An abstract is available on the NIH RePORTER website.

What you can do:

Unfortunately, members of the public have little to no power individually to affect the way animals are used in scientific experimentation in Wisconsin. Last year after we discovered and exposed the fact that the university was violating Wisconsin's anticruelty laws, the university snapped its fingers and the Wisconsin State Legislature exempted them from those laws.

But that doesn't mean that nothing at all can be done.

maternal, deprivation, Harry Harlow, vivisectionIt is possible that a large number of people complaining very concertedly about Kalin's desire to revive Harlow's methods and Bennett's project could have some positive effect. But it will take more than only a few people calling and writing regularly; it will take many of us. The use of maternal deprivation is a giant moral step backwards for the university. People around the world who know what Harlow did to the baby monkeys are appalled that such cruelty was ever allowed and that it was allowed to continue unquestioned for so long. This remains an embarrassment to more than a few at the university. See a bibiliography of Harlow's and his students' publications here.

The Chair of the oversight committee ultimately responsible for approving Kalin's and Bennett's methods is Dr. Robert Streiffer. He is the Chair of the College of Letter and Sciences Animal Care and Use Committee. He teaches philosophy and bio"ethics". It isn't outside the realm of possibility that by focussing our attention on him that something might be done to stop Bennett or even send her packing. With enough pressure, maybe Kalin wouldn't be allowed to begin ripping babies from their mothers' arms.

For the time being, we are encouraging people to call and to write to Robert Streiffer. Tell him that bringing maternal deprivation back to the UW-Madison is a giant ethical step backwards. Ask him to do everything in his power to stop this and to bring the matter to the attention of the entire campus community. Many people will be shocked to learn that the university has knowingly and willingly chosen to return to its very dark past by reviving and embracing the cruel methods pioneered by Harry Harlow.